About Bartomeu Mari's Controversy at MMCA (South Korea)
About Bartomeu Mari's Controversy at MMCA (South Korea)
A letter has been circulating among the members of CIMAM who are surprised by the petition that was undertaken against Bartomeu Mari’s candidature at the MMCA in South Korea as it can be read here: (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/bartomeu-mari-south-korea-macba-365360).
Petition signing, open letters distribution, critical attitudes and protest against attacks to democratic values are all important and understandable acts especially today, when traditional democratic principles are under pressure everywhere.
But more than often those who rush to the keyboard to lay down their signatures under this and that seem to forget that it is not only about abstract ideas we are concerned, but also about complex political and social circumstances, and about real people, with real lives.
What happens in the case of Bartomeu Mari is a typical example of the above: the pre-text of a noble cause—namely the fight against censorship—is misused, taken out of context, and exploited for the public and professional execution of someone who has been consistently defending precisely the values he is now said to have betrayed.
Have all the people who signed taken the time to acknowledge the version of the facts regarding the MACBA that was given by Marí himself (see below) ? What if the biggest mistake by Marí was not to have paid enough timely attention to his curatorial team’s ideas? Of course an artist should be able to do whatever work he wants and show it wherever s/he can, but it’s the director of the institution who carries the responsibility of determining the appropriateness of a work within a context. Does that director not have the right to doubt, to feel trapped, to make a mistake? For over more than 20 years, Bartomeu Marí curated great and radical shows and presented the work of hundreds and hundreds of artists: should there now be an irreversible character assassination because he found himself in a situation without a good solution? He paid for his error (and he corrected the initial decision of not opening the exhibition): he lost his job. It’s too easy to condemn someone in the name of a falsely understood artistic freedom when there is no responsibility engaged.
We acknowledge Bartomeu Marí’s professional standing and encourage him to continue governing cultural structures and organizing exhibitions in the interest of a larger artistic dialogue.
First signatures :
Enrico Lunghi (Mudam Luxembourg), Kate Fowle (Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow), Calin Dan (MNAC Bucharest), Christian Bernard (Mamco Genève)
BARTOMEU MARI REPORT ON EVENTS SURROUNDING “THE BEAST AND THE SOVEREIGN”
“The Beast and the Sovereign” is an exhibition co-produced by MACBA and the Würtembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart. It brings together works by 30 artists and, according to the exhibition media release, is an exploration of “how contemporary artistic practices question and deconstruct the Western and metaphysical definition of political sovereignty: their new way of understanding freedom and emancipation beyond individual autonomy, as well as the modern form of the nation-state.” More information can be accessed at http://www.macba.cat/en/expo-beast-sovereign.
The exhibition curators are Paul B. Preciado and Valentin Roma (MACBA), and Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ (Würtembergischer Kunstverein).
On the morning of Monday March 16th, I first viewed the exhibition, which was in the process of being installed. The press conference for the show was scheduled for Tuesday March 17 at 11:30 am, with the public opening to take place on Wednesday March 18 at 7:30 pm.
Once in the galleries, the curators inquired whether I had “seen the work about the King” which was the first time they directed my attention to this particular piece. Up until this moment, and in the spirit of trusting my curators, I had only scant information on the exhibition and its contents.
The work by Ines Doujak, titled “Haute Couture 04 Transport,” depicts the former King Juan Carlos I of Spain being sodomized by a Bolivian feminist leader, who in turn is being sodomized by a dog. The King is vomiting flowers; the figures appear on top of a pile of Nazi soldiers’ helmets.
On viewing the work I expressed that we could not exhibit it without the certainty of creating a serious crisis for the museum including the exhibition (see “Some Background Information” below). I asked the curators to negotiate with the artist for the removal of the work, while another work by the same artist would remain in the show to represent her. The curators refused this request, citing that removing the work would be tantamount to censorship.
The press conference was rescheduled for the morning of Wednesday the 18th to allow time for further negotiation. During Tuesday, no progress was made and at the end of the afternoon, I made the decision to cancel the press conference and announced that the show would not open.
Wednesday the 18th and Thursday the 19th I was heavily involved in speaking to the press, which took the story to newspapers and social media, the latter in particular generating a great deal of negative criticism regarding my decision.
By Friday the 20th, the situation was known to leaders of political parties, who variously expressed support for or condemned my decision. By this time, the work of Ines Doujak had been broadcast on prime-time news, reproduced on covers of Barcelona’s main papers, and been widely debated on TV and radio.
Meanwhile, the museum field responded in diverse ways, with many colleagues (with varying degrees of knowledge around the specific circumstances) advising in favor of re-opening the show.
Taking my colleagues’ advice into account, and seeing that diverting a crisis for the museum was now unavoidable, I made the decision to open the exhibition on the morning of Saturday March 21.
On Friday evening March 20, following my decision to open the exhibition, I circulated a statement in which I expressed my apologies to artists, curators and the audience, and explained my reasons for defending the museum. The Chairman of the Board of MACBA called a meeting for the evening of Monday the 23rd, and my resignation was accepted / my contract was terminated by the Board (though perhaps unfamiliar to some, this dual action is standard protocol in circumstances like these in Spain). At the same meeting the board resolved to terminate the contracts of the exhibition curators (after a year of working at MACBA on a free-lance basis, both had been formally hired to these positions in January 2015).
My actions have been misinterpreted as bending to political forces and interests. Let me be clear: I never received a phone call or any message to act in one or the other way. From the start, I informed the three head members of the board of my first action (not allowing the show to open) as well as the second (opening the show). I received approval on the first and disappointment yet understanding on the second. I did not need any calls from anyone to deduce the serious, if not fatal damage to the governance of MACBA.
As of March 24th I am Acting Director of MACBA with responsibilities for the 2015 program only. I have been asked to secure the exhibitions program until the appointment of a new director who will be chosen through an international search.
SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION
MACBA is bound to a financial and legal entity known as the Consortium that brings together the Catalan Government, the City Council of Barcelona and MACBA Foundation; as of 2007, the Spanish Ministry of Culture also joined the Consortium. The sum of these public and private interests, constitute the MACBA Board. Currently, the Chairman of the MACBA Consortium is the President of the Catalan Government and its First Vice Chairman is the Mayor of Barcelona.
On the other hand, the MACBA Foundation operates as a private non-profit through which members of the Catalan civil society donate money for the acquisition of artworks for the MACBA Collection. Since 2013, MACBA Foundation also helps the museum in finding patrons and sponsors to support the exhibitions and education programs of the museum. MACBA Foundation’s Honorary Chair is H.M. the Queen Sofia.
A little over a year ago, MACBA dedicated a monographic exhibition to Catalan artist Eulàlia Grau who created a new work for her show. The piece consisted of a slide projection where images of a homeless lady living in the Plaça de Catalunya alternated with images taken from the Internet, showing how people in Spain expressed their anger and criticism against corruption and the entities that embody that power: politicians and bankers. An image of King Juan Carlos I was included, with a “subtitle” quoting a public apology of his: “I am very sorry; it will not happen again”. A right-wing national paper dedicated a full page to this show with the following headline: “The Catalan Government finances insults to the Crown with public money”.
The House of the King made inquiries, and I had to deal with a scenario that led me to write a letter of resignation. I never delivered that letter because the process stopped.
Here in Spain, in a climate of opposition and sometimes open conflict between the administrations of the Spanish and the Catalan Governments, showing a work like Ines Doujak’s “Haute Couture 04 Transport” in a public institution like MACBA, which is 80% financed by local and national (federal) tax money, would be taken by the right wing press and political sectors as an official provocation: a provocation from Catalan authorities to the Spanish ones. Let us recall that as recently as November of 2014, the Spanish Government threatened the Catalan President with jail for calling a referendum in favor of Catalan independence.
I always understood that the partnership of the MACBA Foundation is crucial both as a much needed alternative source of funding for the museum and the search for a balance –or more balanced proportions-- between public and private funding, at a moment where public resources are clearly being reduced (MACBA lost 30% of its public endowment between 2009 and 2014, leading to a 25% reduction in staff and the undermining of its programming). Crucially, the MACBA Foundation is a non-politicized entity, in that its Board does not turn over with every four-year cycle of elections.
I believe that great museums and exhibitions are the result of mutual trust and respect among artists, curators and the institution. Had a discussion around this work taken place in a timely manner before the show’s opening, I am convinced that the curators, the artist and I would have arrived at an acceptable scenario. As it is, the curators were less than transparent with me regarding content that they knew full well would generate an institutional crisis. As the director of the institution, I am obliged to protect the museum, and as the curators were not forthcoming, I considered our trust breached and that there was no longer an agreement to honor.
The curators maintain that I knew of the work previously, as I had signed a loan form. MACBA’s loan forms include an image of the work the size of a small passport photo, without a description of the work or attendant meaning. As directors, it is imperative that we trust our curators and I’m sure many of us sign loan forms on their behalf without requesting great detail. Furthermore, I believe a director should support a curator’s exhibition premise without demanding in-depth review.
I deeply regret that this institution to which I have been deeply committed for 10 years has been hurt because of a regrettable and avoidable disconnect among the responsible parties. I believe I have acted all along in favor of the interests of the Museum.